Brainwashed… Who’s Brainwashed?

Who would want to live in a police state like China? Well, actually 1.4 billion people do and they mostly like it. Many foreigners have made it their home and they too, mostly like it.

A typical kind of tweet from a British person who seems to know very little about China

Let’s start with a touch of “whataboutism”. In 1977, I became a Metropolitan Police officer in London, I was aware of who we needed to know about, who lived where and what they were up to, there was a (pre-digital-era) system of monitoring, recording and tracking people. Imagine what that system has developed into these days. You can’t go online without accepting “cookies”, tracking systems. You can’t do anything in a government department without having ID and access through a system that sends you cookies. You can’t walk along any street, road or alley, go shopping, catch a train bus or metro in the developed world without being observed by CCTV cameras, many are government controlled and have facial recognition and many are private but their imagery will be passed to the police if needed, either voluntarily or through a court order. Go to a bank and get money from an ATM, use your bank card to buy something in a shop, switch on your mobile phone anywhere in the world, doing any of these things means someone is able to track you and locate you to within a few centimetres of where you are standing. Put bluntly, we are living in an age where we are being tracked — if you think this isn’t already happening to you, then you are already brainwashed. However, what’s much more important, is what’s being done with all the information these “trackers” have on you.

There are organisations in most democratic countries which specialise in trying to protect civil liberties. They’ve lost, they already know they’ve lost and yet they continue their fight to protect us from people that might want to do us harm. They’re trying to protect us from governments, police, social media corporations and it’s this very fact that makes China different There isn’t a need for protection from these insidious and threatening organisations.

Not at all surprising to those of us who live here and interact daily with Chinese people, China’s government has the highest approval rating of any government in the world (95.5%). This is not propaganda, Harvard University[1] researched this. Yet people with a different mindset still seem to think that this is a coerced approval rating. It isn’t. Chinese people don’t feel a need to be protected from their government, Westerners looking into China from the outside, even some so-called “experts” fail to recognise how popular the Chinese government is and, when they do realise it, they can’t fathom why it’s so popular.

Some people seem to think there is a system of punishments

There is a “Social Credit System” in China, this is a not entirely a myth but it isn’t anything like Western Mainstream Media’s (WMSM) portrayal of a “big brother” method of punishment and control. It’s a very positive thing which provide far more benefits that are favourable to people who choose to use it and can be ignored by most people who feel there is no need for it.

There is always, an element of truth in WMSM misrepresentations but that minor truth, usually coupled with an ill-informed and invalid interpretation, either by misunderstanding or deliberate deceit, is what causes people to think there might be a problem for China’s population. If you are involved in legal proceedings, you may be “blacklisted” meaning you can’t use planes, trains, you can’t travel internationally or domestically outside your town or city of residence and you can’t get loans or start businesses. If you happen to be a foreigner, it can be highly problematic because you may not leave China until the matter is resolved. But, for the most part the system is there to help people improve their lives, if you want your child to go to a better school you might want to offer your services as a volunteer to the community and the registration of these good deeds helps you achieve a goal you might not otherwise have been able to achieve. The system certainly doesn’t stop you from getting married, and as long as you aren’t subject to a legal order issued by a court, won’t prevent you from travelling, getting a passport or doing anything you would normally wish to do and, for the most part, Chinese never need to know what score they have, it has no meaning.

Every Chinese person has an ID card, this has been so in China, in various different forms for a very long time, it’s been refined and constantly improved. There’s a household registration system which has some critics but try to think of a better way to handle 1.4 billion people. So, for most Chinese, it’s accepted for what it is; a minor inconvenience. British, Americans and Australians don’t have such a card, they see this as an “invasion of privacy” yet every adult must, by law, have a National Insurance, Social Security or a Tax File Number, depending on where they come from, when they open a bank account, they need several forms of proof of address and ID. Most adults possess a driving licence showing their photo and address, they also need a registration to vote which must be verified before they can place a vote in the ballot box. If they default on a loan, they go on a blacklist. Even after payment of the default, they have a mark against them for the next 7 years in most jurisdictions.

So, now we’ve established that in terms of surveillance and government control of our official data, there isn’t much difference between China and the West. Yet, for some reason, WMSM seems to feel, and constantly opine that Chinese people are oppressed while westerners are not. The reason is clear to anyone who takes more than a casual look into this situation.

Wherever we live in the developed world nowadays, social media (SM) controls our lives, we pay bills, we communicate, entertain and even educate through SM. These digital transactions create a history from which patterns and trends can be deduced and the related data is stored. China, has very strong laws about what can be done with data, where must be stored and for how long. In the west, the laws aren’t so strong. Does anybody wonder for example, how it is that Google, Facebook or Yahoo, YouTube and Twitter which charge us nothing for most of their services, become so rich? Not only through advertising as they might like us to believe but data collection and selling.

China recently prevented this: sorting data; exporting it internationally from Chinese based storage; selling it to people or corporations, who may then use that data for any purpose, is illegal[2].

Now think about where it was where you read that China is oppressed by state control and the west is not: It was almost certainly on one of the media which is gathering your data and selling it for profit and tracking your use through “cookies” you were obliged to accept. Think also about why it is that these media platforms don’t operate in China. Not because China bans them as is often believed, but because they won’t accept that China will restrict their sinister and secretive methods of generating huge income streams from your private data. Western media are not only misinforming you, they’re making money while doing so!

In China, every aspect of our social media lives is open to scrutiny by authorities because all SM is registered, most of it to the phone number — we can use it on our laptops and pads, but the media needs to be registered. We can’t get a phone number without producing an ID. Chinese people know this and accept it when they sign up for a new number. In this way, everyone knows, if they do something wrong, they can get caught. The laws are clear, don’t do anything wrong and there’s never going to be an issue. Chinese SM companies don’t hide that they collect your data but, at the same time, they must protect it and are not allowed to sell it; if they do, they break the privacy laws which are designed to protect the user’s privacy rather than the platform owners.

Differences in culture are what makes it ok for the Chinese government to do this. Ask any Chinese person what they think and they will tell you they feel safe, crime is almost non-existent, the number of stolen cars per 100,000 doesn’t even merit a statistical line it’s so low[3]. People may say that’s because China doesn’t have many cars! These are the same people who think China is still riding bicycles! China has about 300 million cars, nearly 500 million drivers, that’s 1.5 times as many licensed drivers as the USA has people and there are 74 cities with registrations of cars higher than 1 million, Beijing alone has 6 million cars[4]. Murder is almost non-existent: China is in the lowest 10 countries in the world for murders with 0.6 per 100,000 people, compared to the United States 5.35[5]. In short, Chinese people feel safe, because they are safer.

Ask any Chinese person about the CCTV cameras all around the streets, on public transport and in shopping malls, they will tell you they like it. Walk around any Chinese city and the most noticeable thing is the absence of damage and graffiti, people don’t do that here, so Chinese cities look cleaner and tidier than western cities, trains are spotlessly clean and completely safe, walking the streets at night does not bring with it a sense of foreboding but a sense of safety and security. Partly because of a respect for authority but also because criminals know they will be caught by the surveillance systems.

What’s commonly accepted here in China would be totally unacceptable to a western civil libertarian who shouts loudly about the fear of becoming a police state. These fears are well placed in regions where the police budget is higher than the military budgets of almost every other country in the world[6]. When a country of 320 million people has a combined budget for police and prisons of over $200 billion, there is every reason to suggest a fear of the police and their government is reasonable but there is no reason to transfer that fear to China or worry that the Chinese people face the same realities. WMSM instill a fear of China and many things Chinese on a totally different set of cultural values.

Historically and psychologically, Chinese people are generally communal, they are not individualistic. Historically, their community has looked after them, provided for them and in return, they offered their labour, the basis of communism is just this; the community works for the people, the people work for the community. It is for this reason the USA, and other countries have absolutely nothing to fear from communism. But, because they know it won’t work for them, are terribly afraid it may be implemented against their will. By whom? Nobody seems to know but it started with Senator Joseph McCarthy and continues to this day. Psychologists will debate this irrational fear for many years to come.

What the Western civil libertarian is afraid of, has already happened. They’re afraid that the “state” will capture their data, control their minds, subjugate them into classes to dominate the poor and weak while promoting the wealthy and strong. The perception of a “police state” being formed though a track and trace system is not ludicrous, it’s very real but it’s only a fear when the police are something to be fearful of.

Any critically minded reader can see societies where there are already examples of this. Societies where people are led to believe they have a say in their leadership, but offered limited choices; where they are told they have freedom but find themselves criticised, persecuted and even punished or ostracised for expressing or acting on their freedoms. This is not so in China but in order to encourage people to believe they have freedoms; their elected politicians use a compliant media to point towards China and manufacture stories to instill and amplify this fear. See the recent Bill in the US Senate, it’s worth $300 million a year to find negative articles on China’s Belt and Road Initiative for a great example of this!

In places where data privacy laws don’t protect the individual, where so much information is already known and used without permission the introduction of a track and trace system would make no difference at all. If people in the USA, UK or anywhere else in the developed world, don’t realise they’re already living in that scenario, then they are being very naïve. Every aspect of their lives can be known to the authorities. But, what’s far more sinister is that every aspect of their lives can be (and is) sold to the highest bidder and sold again to others, there’s no limit to how many times this can be done, by private corporations.

Some may describe China as a police state, but it would be a very wrong description. Completely contrary to what westerners believe and what’s portrayed by Western media, the police in China are VERY good. They serve and protect, unlike some police who actually use that motto to mean serve and protect their own income, infrastructure and the system that creates and equips them. Western police seem to be closer to paramilitary than they are to public servants, armed police wearing body armour is common and frightening but China doesn’t have such an issue. Perhaps China is called a police state because there are a lot of them, many factories, schools, universities and colleges have police offices inside and on the gates. Once again, this is a widely accepted cultural norm, they are there to help. Weterners applying their perfectly reasonable fear of their police, which seem to be above and outside of the law, onto the Chinese people is wrong.

Essentially, most Chinese people are law abiding or at least respectful of the law, rather than fearful of it. They appreciate the police presence and are reassured by it and it takes us westerners a fair bit of time to get used to the fact that a “large” police presence does not mean a “heavy” police presence. Whenever I meet a Chinese police officer for whatever reason, there is always more than one of them, often several, they each have different jobs, one might be crime, one might be immigration, one might be traffic and one or two might be in training so we, accustomed to a heavy-handed western policing system may feel intimidated by them, but there’s no need to be so. They are not heavy-handed, they are not authoritarian, although they have authority, they are courteous and polite and seldom use their power. When they do, it’s because it’s warranted by the action of the person(s) they are dealing with

A very interesting perspective is that the Civil liberty organisations, would almost certainly be more comfortable if they visited China, investigated what they perceive as oppressive but then learnt and understood the Chinese cultural values which not only accept this police presence, but welcome it. They might establish to their own satisfaction that the “police state” which really is a threat to them in their society, in China is actually a system that protects people and their data from criminal activities and corporate pirates. Not only are Chinese people not afraid of their police state, they prefer it to living in a country riddled with so-called “freedoms”.

[1] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/07/long-term-survey-reveals-chinese-government-satisfaction/

[2] https://www.china-briefing.com/news/a-close-reading-of-chinas-data-security-law-in-effect-sept-1-2021/

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1238378/car-theft-rate-country/

[4] https://autonews.gasgoo.com/m/Detail/70018392.html#:~:text=China%20now%20has%20469%20million,data%20released%20by%20the%20MPS.

[5] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/murder-rate-by-country

[6] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-04/america-s-policing-budget-has-nearly-tripled-to-115-billion

I’m British born Australian citizen. I live in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write about China experiences on and off my bike